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How to keep kids learning in lockdown

It’s tricky enough for adults to stay motivated right now, but how on earth do you keep your kids positive, bright and ready to learn? The Headmaster of Embley in Romsey gives some great advice.

Teenager learning in lockdown

Home schooling has become a dirty word for many parents over the last three months – the nightmare juggle with work (and cleaning and cooking) and with the needs of our children.

Embley headmaster Cliff Canning
Embley headmaster Cliff Canning – pre lockdown!

Times like this call for expert professional advice, so Cliff Canning, Headmaster at the independent co-ed (2-18 years) Embley in Romsey (the stunning 130 acre estate that was once Florence Nightingale’s family home) has this advice on how to keep children motivated and yourself involved in their learning. Sound words, and I hope they help.

Embley in Romsey
Embley’s beautiful gothic façade

My children are finding it hard to focus. Are there any quick fixes?


It sounds old fashioned but it’s routine. The structure of routine will carry them through when their will won’t. It really does help children to know that a school day is a school day, even if they’re at home – to make sure they’re at their desk at 9am and when the day is done they can walk away and relax.

Our digital learning strategy has been embedded across the school for three years so we were able to switch with relative ease to remote schooling. We’ve kept to the school timetable at Embley, with a few simplified tweaks to allow parents to better navigate their own workload and this has definitely been part of our success. We expect the kids to be dressed appropriately because the majority of our timetable is conducted via video conferencing. It’s so important that the teacher can see the kids and the kids can see the teacher – technology needs to be the enabler to teaching, but to teach successfully the human element mustn’t be lost. We encourage the children to work in an appropriate, quiet space in their homes, and not their bedrooms, that can be regularly supervised by parents.

How can parents help?

Be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up – your children will catch up on academics again. And some common sense needs to prevail. It’s not normal for children to be stuck in front of computers all day, and if you feel that they should stop for a bit and pick up the work later, that’s entirely appropriate. And with older children parents need to remember that the relationship aspect for them is so hard – they are marooned in their home and accessing their friendship groups online is important.

How can I tell if my children’s school is doing enough?

Communication. A good school will try to move your child’s learning forward and be inventive. Having submitted GCSE grades to the exam boards, our Year 11s will begin their A Level courses early because we think that the children need to work towards something. But we’re doing it in a way that allows them to have a degree of autonomy in what they choose to learn over the next five weeks.    

How do you create community in isolation?

I think you have to be creative, there’s no way around it. Much of it is about having fun and actively involving the children, so we’ve been doing a lot of school house competitions – various keepy-uppy challenges, how to get a biscuit from forehead to mouth without touching it, and holding our own version of Bake Off – I baked a white loaf, it was terrible! And our school photo is still going ahead too – everyone can wear what they like (one of the teachers is planning to be in a ballgown at her computer) and we’ll create it virtually. They are small things that add up to a lot.

What pastoral problem signs should we be looking out for?
Well, children are becoming overly familiar with digital technology and can do some silly things. You need to be vigilant on where your kids are using technology. Put the devices away and out of the bedroom. Children should be as familiar with their iPad as their pencil case as a tool of the trade to learn, but it’s entirely appropriate to step away too.

How are you prepared for R, Y1 and Y6 return?

We’ve been preparing for the last five weeks, forensically walking the floor and establishing with parents and children what they will be coming back to. With 130 acres, we recognise it’s a privilege few other schools have, and learning outside the classroom has never been more important so we’ll be doing a lot of that. We have a nine-hole golf course and tennis courts too – both sports currently allowed by the government, so we intend to make full use of those too. But the most important thing when the kids come back to school will be the relationship between staff and pupil. Never mind any other innovations, it’s the human factor and feeling of school ‘family’ that will make all the difference, even at 2m distance from each other.

Embley is having a Virtual Open Day on Tuesday 16 June 2020 at 10am. Click here to book.

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